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What Is Affirmative Defense?

Posted on April 30, 2024

In the realm of law, an affirmative defense serves as a powerful legal tool utilized by defendants to mitigate or excuse liability for alleged wrongdoing. 

Defining Affirmative Defense

An affirmative defense is a legal argument presented by the defendant in response to a plaintiff’s claim, asserting facts or circumstances that, if proven, would justify or excuse the defendant’s actions. Unlike a denial of the plaintiff’s allegations, which merely disputes the factual accuracy of the claims, an affirmative defense offers a justification, excuse, or explanation for the defendant’s conduct.

What is the Purpose of an Affirmative Defense?

The primary purpose of an affirmative defense is to shift the burden of proof onto the defendant, requiring them to provide evidence supporting their assertion. By presenting an affirmative defense, the defendant aims to establish that, despite engaging in the alleged conduct, they should not be held liable due to extenuating circumstances or legal principles recognized by the court.

Common Examples of Affirmative Defenses

Numerous affirmative defenses exist across various areas of law, each tailored to specific legal contexts. Some common examples include:

  • Self-Defense: In cases involving allegations of assault or battery, the defendant may assert self-defense as an affirmative defense, arguing that their actions were necessary to protect themselves from imminent harm or danger.
  • Insanity or Diminished Capacity: In criminal cases, defendants may assert insanity or diminished capacity as affirmative defenses, claiming that they were unable to appreciate the nature or consequences of their actions due to mental illness or impairment.
  • Consent: In cases involving allegations of consent-based offenses such as assault, battery, or certain contractual disputes, the defendant may assert that the plaintiff voluntarily consented to the conduct in question, thereby negating liability.
  • Necessity or Duress: Defendants accused of committing crimes under duress or out of necessity may raise these circumstances as affirmative defenses, arguing that they were compelled to act unlawfully in order to avoid imminent harm or danger.
  • Statute of Limitations: Defendants facing civil lawsuits may invoke the statute of limitations as an affirmative defense, contending that the plaintiff’s claim is barred because it was filed after the expiration of the statutory time limit for bringing legal action.

How an Affirmative Defense Differs from a Regular Defense

An affirmative defense differs from a regular defense in several key ways:

Burden of Proof

In a regular defense, the burden of proof lies with the plaintiff, who must prove their case by presenting evidence and convincing the court of the defendant’s liability. In contrast, an affirmative defense places the burden of proof on the defendant, requiring them to present evidence supporting their assertion that justifies or excuses their actions.

Introducing Evidence 

While a regular defense typically involves disputing the plaintiff’s allegations and challenging the evidence, an affirmative defense introduces new evidence. 

Potential for Absolving Liability

Successfully asserting an affirmative defense can result in the defendant being absolved of liability or facing reduced penalties, whereas a regular defense may only result in a dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims or a verdict in the defendant’s favor without necessarily excusing or justifying the defendant’s actions. To be fully prepared for an affirmative defense, contact a Breckenridge criminal defense attorney today for a free consultation.